Panasonic announces prices for the GH-1

dpreview today links to Panasonic’s press release announcing pricing for the new GH-1. My reader will recall that I suggested this camera might give Nikon and Canon pause for thought — even if that thought is merely “hey, we need to start stealing ideas from Panasonic as well as Olympus”. Unfortunately, the announced price is $1499, bundled with a 14-140mm (effectively 28-280mm in 35mm terms) lens. This isn’t a terrible deal, but unless the street price is a lot lower, it’s not going to deter most punters from the “safe bet” of a Nikon D5000 or Canon T1i for ~$800, which will still be safely under $1499 with a Nikon or Canon 18-200mm lens (yes, Canon has one now in case you didn’t know).

It’s a safe bet that Panasonic has a lot of room to reduce the street price of the GH-1. Their excellent Lumix TZ cameras (of which I own two) tend to come in at the $350-450 mark and drop to the $200-250 range within a year. So, the $1499 may just be Panasonic’s plan for burning rewarding their early adopters.

D90x Approacheth?

With Canon’s new consumer DSLR offering 1080p video (albeit at 20fps), 15MP, and 14-bit RAW, the obvious shortcomings of the D90 are more obvious than ever. I also note that my favorite discount camera store is out of stock on the D80, while Amazon is selling D80s for the same price as D90s. Obvious conclusion — the D90 is replacing the D80 at the ~$700 price point and a successor to the D90 with the obvious deficiencies addressed is on its way.

Canon 500D

Canon has announced the latest in its consumer DSLR line with 15 MP and 1080p (@20fps) / 720p (@30fps) video. Assuming Canon inserts this camera at the logical price point (presumably slightly cheaper than Nikon’s D90), that pretty much sets a new bar for DV cameras which will either need to match the 500D’s image quality or come in under its price. It also means that Nikon will need to respond with a D90x (say) that offers 1080p (and, I hope, 14-bit RAW).

And remember that the Panasonic GH-1 is already out there, waiting to eat their lunch. And while the Panasonic’s image quality may be marginally inferior to that of the Canon and Nikon DSLRs (the D90 in particular has ridiculously good low light performance), the GH-1 is smaller, cheaper, has it all over them on the video side of things.

And one — well two — more things. The GH-1’s rear video screen swings out and twists, like a video camera’s, and its electronic viewfinder works for video, like a video camera’s. Shooting video on a conventional DSLR is going to get old, fast.

Addendum

Oh and one more significant advantage of the GH-1 for shooting video — its autofocus works continuously while shooting.

Look on my works, ye mighty, and weep…

And I’m referring to you Canon and Nikon (and Sony and Olympus).

(Can you tell I’m looking forward to WATCHMEN?)

Panasonic has released the GH-1, the “real” version of its G-1, aka the first truly modern interchangeable lens digital camera. In doing so, it marks the emergence of Panasonic as perhaps the leading manufacturer of consumer cameras today. Time will tell whether Canon and Nikon (and Sony) are able to preserve their dominance of the still and video digital camera markets by reacting.

What’s so special about the GH-1?

Well, it’s smaller, lighter, and cheaper than a DSLR by virtue of not having a mirror/pentaprism viewfinder assembly, or a large heavy shutter. It’s a “fly-by-wire” camera with an electronic viewfinder, but the electronic viewfinder is as big as a good DSLR viewfinder while accurately previewing the effects of shutter speed and aperture (because it’s live view). It focuses the way a point-and-shoot camera does, but it focuses as fast as a DSLR. Oh, and it shoots 1080p at 24dps and 720p as 60fps.

Image quality is not quite up there with the D90 or 5D MkII, but then you’re paying two thirds the price of the first and a fraction of the price of the second. It’s probably going to be cheaper than most halfway decent HD camcorders. And unlike the D90 it has proper stereo microphone hookups.

All this, and the option of Leica and Zuiko lenses.

Another Annoying D90 “Feature”

Turns out that the D90 uses lossy compression on its RAW files.

The D90 achieves relatively small RAW file sizes by applying lossy compression to the data whether you like it or not – to put them into context, the D300 with the same resolution typically delivers 12-bit RAW files measuring 13.6MB with lossless compression, or 14.2MB with no compression at all. It’s always good to save space, but we’d sooner the D90 employed lossless compression on its RAW files, or at least gave you the option. For that you’ll need the D300. (Cameralabs.com)

This is a really annoying decision. It’s bad enough that the D90 doesn’t offer 14-bit image processing (something you get with the much cheaper Rebel XSi, and the slightly cheaper 40D) but this is just dumb. Perhaps Nikon’s lossy compression is so damn good that no-one can tell the difference, but why not make it an option. I guarantee not having a lossless file format will cost Nikon sales.

Deliberately crippling cameras (heck, I’m betting that Nikon is using the same circuitry as the D300 and just flipping some firmware switch to disable 14-bit processing and uncompressed RAW) means that the digital camera market is teetering on the edge of massive price drops (after all, it’s clear that the D90 is a D300 in a flimsier box for 60% of the price, or would be sans deliberate crippling), which are all the more likely given the economic situation.

It used to be typical for camera companies to sell a ruggedized version of a consumer camera for a ridiculous amount of money. For that you got interchangeable components (focusing screens, backs, viewfinders), weather seals, longer life components, faster motor drives, and so forth). But the cheaper camera didn’t have a special circuit in it to deliberately fuck up your pictures.

Until Nikon is willing to stop insulting my intelligence, I’m not buying another piece of Nikon kit.